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Parasha Korach (Korah): Appointed for Service

Korach (Korah)
Numbers 16:1–18:32; 1 Samuel 11:14 12:22; Acts 5:1–11

“Korach son of Izhar, the son of Kohath, the son of Levi, and certain Reubenites—Dathan and Abiram, sons of Eliab, and On son of Peleth—became insolent and rose up against Moses.”  (Numbers 16:1–2)

Last week, in Parasha Shlach, the 12 spies returned from their 40-day fact-finding mission in Canaan describing the Promised Land as a bountiful place.  Ten of the spies reported, however, that the Israelites were no match for the giants there.  Only Joshua and Caleb insisted that they were capable of doing what God commanded—taking the land.


A sculpture of the spies, in Petah Tikvah, Israel (photo credit: Dr. Avishai Teicher)

In this week’s Parasha, Korach (a Levite) challenges the leadership of Moses and the Aaronic priesthood (kehunah).

Joining Korach’s rebellion against Moses are Dathan and Abiram (from the tribe of Reuben), as well as 250 key council members who defy Moses and Aaron, stating, “You have gone too far!  The whole community is holy, every one of them, and the LORD is with them.  Why then do you set yourselves above the LORD’s assembly?”  (Numbers 16:3)

Moses, who is a humble man, falls face down when he hears this mutiny, but responds with his own challenge to Korach and his followers:

“In the morning the Lord will show who belongs to Him and who is holy, and He will have that person come near Him.  The man He chooses He will cause to come near Him.  You, Korach, and all your followers are to do this:  Take censers and tomorrow put burning coals and incense in them before the Lord.  The man the Lord chooses will be the one who is holy.  You Levites have gone too far!”  (Numbers 16:4–7)

Moses reminds Korach that it is no small thing for God to have separated the Levites out from the Israelites to work in the Tabernacle, bringing them close to Him.  He tells Korach that his rebellion is against the Lord.

Torah scroll-bat mitzvah-Jewish milestones-family

Jewish parents watch as their 12-year-old daughter reads from the Sefer Torah (Torah scroll).

When Moses summons Dathan and Abiram, however, they refuse to come, accusing him of being a malevolent dictator.

In anger, Moses says to the Lord, “Don’t accept their grain offering!  I haven’t taken one donkey from them.  I’ve done nothing wrong to any of them.”  (Numbers 16:15)

Korach and his followers come to present their incense offering in the morning.  Moses boldly reasserts that God has appointed him to leadership.  He tells the people:

“If these men die a natural death and suffer the fate of all mankind, then the Lord has not sent me.  But if the Lord brings about something totally new, and the earth opens its mouth and swallows them, with everything that belongs to them, and they go down alive into the realm of the dead, then you will know that these men have treated the Lord with contempt.”  (Numbers 16:29–30)

Maria_Hadfield_Cosway-The Judgement of Korah-Dathan and Abiram

The Judgment of Korah, Dathan and Abiram, by Maria Hadfield Cosway

Immediately, Korach, Dathan, Abiram and their families, plus all their possessions are swallowed by the earth, and fire from the Lord consumes the 250 men.

“They went down alive into the grave, with everything they owned; the earth closed over them, and they perished and were gone from the community.”  (Numbers 16:33)

Instead of the people seeing this event as a clear sign from God that He appointed Moses, the people grumble again, accusing Moses of murder!

“You have killed the Lord’s people.”  (Numbers 16:41)

Consequently, a plague swiftly spreads among them.

Acting quickly to save the Israelites, Moses instructs Aaron to take incense in his censor among the assembly to make atonement for them.

God accepts Aaron’s atonement and the plague ends, but in that short time, 14,700 people have died.

To put an end to the murmuring, and confirm Aaron’s status, Moses places the staff of each tribal chief, including Aaron’s staff who is from the Levi tribe, in the Tent of the Covenant (the Tabernacle).

The next day, the staffs were taken out and the leaders inspected them publicly.  As a sign of Aaron’s unique position as high priest, Aaron’s staff “not only sprouted but had budded, blossomed and produced almonds.”  (Numbers 17:8)


Bees and almonds in Israel

The Lord also reiterates to Aaron that he and his sons (and descendants) have the great responsibility to serve as priests inside the Tabernacle, specifically “in connection with everything at the altar and inside the curtain.  I am giving you the service of the priesthood as a gift.”  (Numbers 18:7)

The men from the rest of the tribe of Levi were given to Aaron as a gift and also have a great responsibility.  The Lord instructs Aaron:  “They are to be responsible to you and are to perform all the duties of the tent, but they must not go near the furnishings of the sanctuary or the altar.  Otherwise both they and you will die.”  (Numbers 18:3)

God makes His intentions to the Israelites very clear:  When He appoints a man to a specific service for His glory, He will protect that appointment.

Today, DNA analysis has located many descendants of Aaron—the Kohanim—often having the last name of Cohen.  From them, the Temple Institute in Jerusalem has identified and trained the priests who will perform their duties at the altar of the Third Temple, when it is built.

As well, Levites (other than Aaron’s descendants) are also being identified and trained to perform their levitical roles.

Model-Second Temple

A model of the Second Temple

Haftarah Korach

“So all the people went to Gilgal and made Saul king in the presence of the LORD.  There they sacrificed fellowship offerings before the LORD, and Saul and all the Israelites held a great celebration.”  (1 Samuel 11:15)

In Haftarah Korach (prophetic portion of the readings), the theme of rebellion against God-instituted leadership continues.

The people of Israel rebel against Adonai, demanding an earthly king rather than the prophets and judges the Lord had sent to guide them, such as the prophet Samuel, who took their pleas for a king as a direct attack on his leadership ability and character.

Samuel’s words echo the response of Moses when the people challenged his leadership: 

In an address to the people, Samuel states, “So here I am; now is the time to witness against me before Adonai and before his anointed king.  Does any of you think I have taken your ox or donkey, defrauded or oppressed you, or accepted a bribe to deprive you of justice?  Tell me, and I will restore it to you.”  (1 Samuel 12:3)

God emphasizes to Samuel that he should not take their rejection personally, for they are in actuality rejecting the Lord’s Divine leadership of Israel.  Nevertheless, God selects an earthly king for Israel, Saul, even though it was not in keeping with His perfect will.

King Saul-Dr. Lidia Kozenitzky

King Saul, by Dr. Lidia Kozenitzky

At Gilgal, Samuel reminds the people that God is still the true King of Israel, and that He has saved them repeatedly even after they had forgotten Him.

Samuel reassures them that if they and their selected king continue to fear and serve God, things would go well with them.  If they rebel, however, oppression will follow.  Not even the king of Israel is above the commandments of God!

To confirm this word, Samuel calls on God for rain and thunder.

“And the Lord sent thunder and rain that day; and the people greatly feared the Lord and Samuel.”  (1 Samuel 12:18)

Since it was the time to harvest the wheat, the dry season, rain and thunder are unnatural.  Moreover, such rain could destroy their crops.  The people understand that God has sent them a sign and they are convicted of their sins. 


Israeli children sit on a bale of hay.

The Israelites ask Samuel to intercede for them so that they would not die for their grave sins of worshiping idols and wanting an earthly king and similar to Moses in the Torah portion, Samuel does intercede on behalf of the people.

He reassures them, telling them not to be afraid despite the evil they have done, cautioning them to not chase after futile things, but to serve the Lord with all their heart.

He tells them, “For the sake of His great reputation, Adonai will not abandon His people; because it has pleased Adonai to make you a people for Himself.”  (1 Samuel 12:22)

Despite their rebellion, the people do fear the consequence of sin, and perhaps, God Himself, which the Bible says is the beginning of wisdom.

We must teach our children to seek truth in God’s Word and to have a holy reverence for God.  It is true that our Father and Creator is a God of love, patience, goodness, compassion, and is slow to anger; but as we see in Korach, He is also a God of justice.  As well, He is jealous for the love, obedience, and devotion of His people.

“If you rebel against the commandments of God, then the Lord will be against you.”  (1 Samuel 12:14)

Even if we have made mistakes, or walked out of the perfect will of God, we can still turn back in teshuvah (repentance) and serve Him with all our heart, trusting in the goodness and mercy of God to restore and redeem.


Three neatly dressed young girls walking together in a quiet Jerusalem street where clothes are hanging to dry on a laundry line in the Orthodox neighborhood of Mea Shearim.

Ananais and Sapphira Rebel Against God

“For I the LORD do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, are not consumed.”  (Malachi 3:6)

In the New Covenant, the story of Ananais and Sapphira highlights that rebellion is just as serious under the New Covenant as the Old.

God does not change; He is the same yesterday, today, tomorrow, and forever.  (Hebrews 13:8)

In this New Covenant account, Ananais and Sapphira, following the example of Barnabas, sold a parcel of land in order to present the proceeds at the apostles’ feet.

Ananais, with the full knowledge of his wife, conspired to withhold a portion, while pretending they were offering the full amount.

When Ananais presented his offering, he died on the spot.  Later, his wife arrived, unaware of what happened.  When asked about the price of the land that was sold, Sapphira lied and, therefore, died immediately as well.

When the church saw their dead bodies, a sign of God’s judgment, “great fear seized the church.”  (Acts 5:11)

The Death of Ananias-Raphael

The Death of Ananias, by Raphael

Each of us are accountable to God.  Even submission in marriage does not mean a wife must follow her husband into sin.  If our spouse sins, we have a duty to correct them and not go along with their wrongdoing.

Falsehood is of the devil, the father of lies.  Peter even stated that Satan had filled their hearts to lie to the Ruach HaKodesh (Holy Spirit) (Acts 5:3).  Therefore, we must beware of all lies, deception, and manipulation.  But more than that, we must be aware that “the human heart is the most deceitful of all things, and desperately wicked.”  (Jeremiah 17:9)

People have an endless capacity to lie to themselves and to be in denial about what is really in their hearts.  The worst part is that all too often we believe the lies we tell ourselves, and we end up acting on core beliefs that are not in line with the Word of God.

Ananais and Sapphira were not obligated to give anything.  But they did make a commitment, perhaps to curry favor with their fellow Believers.

Maybe they told themselves that God only helps those who help themselves.  Maybe they thought God wouldn’t mind their keeping a little something for a rainy day, even though they were making it look like they were giving everything.


A young Jewish girl places money in the pushke, a charity box that has on it the Hebrew word tzedakah, meaning justice, righteousness, and charity.  It is derived from tzedek, meaning righteousness, fairness, or justice.  Tzadik, meaning righteous, is a related word.

We must ask ourselves if we give all that is due to God or are we withholding a portion for ourselves like Ananais and Sapphira?

And while each of us are appointed for service in some kind of way, perhaps we are counting ourselves equal with the leadership that God has placed over us or are thinking of ourselves more highly than we ought like Korach and the 250 Israelite leaders.

Let’s examine ourselves and get our lives right before God, by His grace, before the great and terrible day of the Lord comes.  On that day healing and freedom will be poured out with great joy on those who revere His name!

“Surely the day is coming, it will burn like a furnace.  All the arrogant and every evil doer will be stubble and that day that is coming will set them on fire, says the Lord Almighty…  But for you who revere My name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings.  And you will go out and leap like calves released from the stall.”  (Malachi 4:1–2)

What an awesome and wonderful hope to those who revere God’s name; but also what a dire warning to those who choose to rebel against God Almighty.  While God sets before us life and death, blessing and curses, He is not trying to trick us.  He wants us to choose the path of life, no matter how steep or narrow the way.  (Deuteronomy 30:19)

It is comforting to know that even if we do sin or fall into rebellion, if we repent, we have an advocate who is on our side, One who is standing at the right hand of the Father, ever interceding on our behalf.  This is Yeshua HaMashiach (Jesus the Messiah).  Halleluyah!

“Who is the one who condemns?  Messiah Yeshua is He who died, yes, rather who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us.”  (Romans 8:34)

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